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CrossFit, the latest fad sweeping the fitness world. A very high intensity workout, using free weights and body resistance to rev up from the traditional (dull) weight training machines. As it is considered far more beneficial to train functionally, by exercising the body for everyday rather than using a machine, because when was the last time you lifted a box sitting down? CrossFit seems to have the solution, the gyms only contain free weights, step-up boxes, mats, weighted bars, over head bars and so on. It not only promotes functional training and hardcore workouts for fitness gains, it also boasts a community spirit through the class format and to top it all off, it is quick, the results are fast and in our ‘want it now’ culture this is pleasing the masses.
It has now arrived in Thailand with gyms opening in Bangkok and Phuket and for closer to home, Koh Lanta, where classes are run out of Lanta Gym daily and have proved very popular. I have my reservations, partly due to kipping*, but also because it seems to be circuit training on steroids, pushing people, sometimes unconditioned folks to failure unnecessarily which obviously leads to bad technique and injury.
What is it?
CrossFit started in 2000 and has now gained a fierce following, it began California developed by coach Greg Glassman, Reebok acquired the brand and have started the Crossfit Games with a $2 million prize and the title ‘Fittest on earth’ They recently announced it had reached 10,000 affiliates for the $40 million company. There are many reasons for the popularity of what has made circuit training sexy but nothing has spawned the growth more than the fact it is very easy to open a CrossFit gym, or ‘box’ as they are referred to. All that is needed is a $1,000 weekend seminar, an essay and a $3,000 annual affiliate fee to use the brand name.
Each gym contains a board where the workouts are displayed, with pictures and a list of daily exercises-for example deadlifts, overhead press, squats etc These boards also have names of participants and number of repetitions of certain exercises adding the competitive element. A participant’s nutrition is also key to the CrossFit lifestyle, the paleo diet is encouraged whereby people load up on protein rather than refined sugars and carbohydrates.
With this fair share of followers so also exists the sceptics who criticise the lack of decent technique. They advise fewer repetitions because pushing until failure, can mean falling off a bar or dropping a weight dangerously and so far there are a great deal of injuries reported from classes (CrossFit injury gives 942,000 results in Google.)
‘The concept and philosophy of CrossFit, to push yourself to your absolute limits and train like a beast, is completely admirable. However, to do so disregarding safe form and technique is ridiculous. If you watch the CrossFit games on YouTube, it is shocking to see people deadlifting with such poor posture. There is the odd CrossFit Boxes that have great instructors but some of the exercises, for example Olympic lifts, deadlifts etc are complex, technical and to teach these in group environments where the attitude is lift whatever you can, for as many times as possible is just madness and makes physiotherapists a lot of money! Some of their workouts are poorly designed programs that over work and stress the body in areas where people may already have tight muscles. Most people who participate in CrossFit are average joes sitting at desks all day, who do not need to be doing a million squats straight into 100 push-ups and then box jumps. If taught well and safely it can be great. But the majority is not.’
Kabel Cheung, A Personal Trainer from London: Kabel Cheung
A move, that in the military is regarded as cheating deserving punishment, it uses momentum to force the body upwards. An online dictionary definition; ‘A form of cheating while doing pull-ups, whereby an individual struggling to do another abruptly jerks the knees upward to provide extra lift and remove the weight of said body parts from the lift equation’. This movement pattern is encouraged in CrossFit to push out as many repetitions possible, what makes me cringe is the extension of the spine backwards with no regard for safety or care. CrossFit seems an exercise dream come true and as a personal trainer I know firsthand the benefits of pushing the body hard but what about technique? I have taught my clients that shorty sharp bursts are the way to see results, coupling correct form resistance exercise with high intensity cardiovascular work, but punishing the body constantly can lead to injury and muscle strain, pain and niggles.
There are positive experiences too; ‘My experience was that all of the trainers were knowledgeable, and meticulous. And I’ve worked in and around a lot of gyms’ Andrew Frimpong, Spin instructor. In conclusion, it up to you dear reader, to trust your gut, use good technique, posture and do what feels good for your body.
Want to try?
Like with any new form of exercise choose your class wisely, observe the instructors and see if they correct customers technique and are approachable, as the barking dog style is good to push you but also injure you. Start with bars (no weights) and watch your technique or even better have a personal training session to teach you correct use and execution of weights. Leave your ego and competitiveness at the door as that can lead to being hurt and what does it matter that dude can press 10kg more if you can not move the next day?